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Long-lost Larry Stephens radio scripts to be performed at Wolverhampton's Funny Things Festival

By Heather Large | Sandwell | Showbiz | Published:

He was the boy from the Black Country who helped to transform post-war British comedy.

Writing for entertainment giant Tony Hancock and co-creating The Goon Show, Larry Stephens had a way with words that seemed to resonate with an audience.

But his tragic death at the age of just 35 means his name is not as familiar as the likes of his peers Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Eager for the writer’s contribution to the world of comedy to be fully appreciated, Julie Warren, who is Larry’s first cousin, once removed, has written a book about his life.

“He died so young and so long ago that he seems to have been forgotten apart from by the hardcore Goon Show fans. He deserves for more people to know what he did because without him British comedy would have been very different,” said the 49-year-old.

Larry was born in West Bromwich in 1923 and by the age of four had moved to Quinton where he attended Quinton Infant and Junior School and then After finishing his education at Birmingham Central Grammar School before starting work he began working as an estate agent’s clerk.

His first love was music and he was a jazz pianist with Dennis R Hinton and His Band at venues across the Midlands. In 1942, the band enjoyed success in a competition organised by Melody Maker magazine, which took them to the regional saw the group take part in the regional heats held at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall. It was all going well for the young musician but his promising career was interrupted when he was called up to fight in the Second World War.

He was an officer with the British Commandos and served in Burma and India, when he during which time While away from home, Larry would spend his spare time writing plays in his role as entertainment officer for his unit. After the war, he finished his service in 1947 and returned home to Quinton before moving to London.

“He started going to the Nuffield Centre, which was a recreational club for servicemen as they had a twice weekly variety show,” said Julie. “He met an agent called Phyllis Rounce, who represented Tony Hancock, and she thought they would get on well. Larry ended up becoming one of the his main writers and also introduced him to his first wife Cicely Romanis.

“He was best man at the wedding and a few days later Larry married catwalk model Diana Forster and Tony and Cicely were witnesses at the wedding,” she added.

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It was Hancock who introduced him to Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine and together they created the hugely successful radio comedy The Goon Show.

He was one of the main writers throughout it’s nine-year run, drawing on his own experiences and acquaintances for material. Larry also wrote for TV͛s top-rated The Army Game and created scripts for Hancock’s many stage appearances as well as his ATV series, The Tony Hancock Show.

Sadly, Larry died in 1959 from a brain haemorrhage caused by hypertension. “It’s very tragic,” said Julie. “He had been given a year to live so he at least had some warning. Before the war he was very outgoing but the war affected him, as you would expect, and he was quite withdrawn in some ways. He still liked to play the piano but he didn’t like to perform. He preferred to see his friends perform his words,” she added.

“Everyone I have spoken to has said what a nice man he was. While I researching, I spoke to Roy Galton and Alan Simpson who wrote Hancock’s Half Hour. They said he was well-respected in the script-writing world. He also had this blond hair that they all wanted back then,” she added.

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While growing up, she had been told stories about her script-writing relative by her grandmother but had never realised how much he had accomplished until she started researching her family history. stumbling across his Wikipedia page.

“I was doing some family history research and I typed his name into Google and this page came up. “I couldn’t believe how much he had done. I had always wanted to write a book and when I saw the Wikipedia page I knew I wanted to write about Larry. I think a lot of people will be interested in his story,” said Julie, who lives in Wickford, Essex.

And it was while researching, she discovered two long-lost radio scripts in the BBC archives, which had been penned by Larry for Hancock in 1952. They were two episodes for a comedy series, called Vacant Lot, focused on life in the dull faded fictional seaside town of Churdley Bay, where the blundering, slightly pompous and barely tolerated Hancock aspires to better his lot. Despite actors as Sellers, Milligan and Carry On͛’s Kenneth Connor being mooted for roles, they were never recorded.

But now they will be performed for the first time at next month’s Funny Things festival in Wolverhampton. “When I read them, I could really hear Hancock’s voice coming through. I’m so excited to see them performed,” said Julie.

l The Lost Hancocks: Vacant Lot will be performed at the Light House Media Centre 2pm and 7pm on November 4.

Julie is crowdfunding to help publish her book. Visit and more information is available at unbound.com/books/goons

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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